Exercises 18 (two versions), 7, 16, 8, 14b, 3, 1, 15, 10 (two versions), 11
This marvelous recording of these elusive works features composer-supervised performances by a hand-picked group of renowned new-music exponents.
Your first encounter with the music of Christian Wolff leaves you with the impression you’ve just heard (or played, or read) something totally strange, unlike anything else you know. And yet, upon reflection, you realize it is at the same time something completely ordinary and normal, as familiar in its way as any number of repetitive actions characteristic of everyday life, getting up in the morning, going to school, work, church, washing the dishes, performing the daily tasks of home and family.
Weird little tunes, sounding as if they had been beamed at some remote point in the universe and then bounced back again as a kind of intergalactic mutant music; recognizable melodic and rhythmic patterns, somehow sewn together in monstrous pairings, sometimes reminiscent of the demons of Hieronymus Bosch, composites of animals, fish, flowers, and common household objects: there is order, but also constant interruption, intrusions of disorderly reality upon regularity and lawfulness, combining to create an effect of both familiarity and strangeness: Shklovsky’s ostranenie.
You could say this music is surrealist-not reproducing familiar forms, but revealing, behind these, life’s unpredictability. You could say it is political; improvisatory; concerned with collaborative, non-hierarchical forms of social organization; but you can’t really say what it is like (although John Cage came close when he said, after a performance of the Exercises in New York, that it was like the classical music of an unknown civilization).